PHOTO: Grilling

THIS Memorial Day weekend is vastly different from any that have ever been experienced before in the United States—especially in its big population centers.

There will be no “end of season” or “start of summer” sales to go to; no “lowest prices of the year” to examine in person at malls or auto dealers. Though we will remember our fallen soldiers, Memorial Day ceremonies will be muted: even the Boy Scouts must suspend their annual decoration of military graves.

There will be few public gatherings, but the humans who venture out will be masked like characters in a Greek tragedy.

In a phrase, this three-day holiday weekend is covered in the dark shroud of the novel coronavirus. Lots of folks might find themselves huddling at home, gripped by fear as if they lived on a battlefield.

But wait! There comes a light. Signs and omens predict that change is coming.

Much of Virginia is slowly proceeding into a Phase I reopening. Only Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County are still under shutdown rules.

Prometheus returns just in time.

Prometheus was one of the Titans, the old Greek gods overthrown by Zeus and other well-known and newer Olympic gods. Prometheus, an ally of Zeus, is best known as the one who gave fire to humans, enabling mortals to pass from nomadic to settled agricultural, and then to city life and civilization.

All societies have held fire in awe. Fire is light. Controlled fire is power. It provides heat, light and ... cooked cuisine! It has a sacred place in most religions and an honored place in the home—as with the Roman hearth, which was the center of family life.

Torchlight parades, witches covens, and other ritual practices make extensive practical and symbolic use of flames. Boy Scouts have to learn to make a fire from scratch. Just about every teen-involved horror movie portrays a scene of ghostly story-telling around a fire pit.

This Memorial Day weekend, folks will indulge themselves in fire rituals as never before. After more than two months of a macabre medieval lockdown, families will flow into their backyards, side lots, or adjacent fields for food and fun. And friends and neighbors will also partake in such festivities.

One compelling centrifugal force of these gatherings will emanate from the fire pit, the barbecue stand or the gas-fired grill. This is a Promethean legacy for sure.

Now fire pits have been around, some say, since 1 million B.C—a convenient date to remember or a fine title for a movie. Over time, these pits have evolved from simple holes in the ground to elaborate architectural monuments, as a quick survey of Landscape Architecture magazine will demonstrate.

As popular as they have become, fire pits and related equipment (tubs, grills, covers, special utensils) have been a hot commodity during this pandemic. Distributors I know have estimated sales increases of 40 to 60 percent over last year for the period of March through late May. No matter how fast the product is taken off the container ships, the demand for it cannot be quenched.

This is a sure sign (among others) that America has had enough of hunkering down in fear. Fire pit sales are one harbinger of the next phase to come: the gradual restoration of civilization to our land.

According to the legend, Prometheus gave fire to humans. But he also gave us all the civilizing tools, like art, music, writing, architecture and the healing arts. The practice and appreciation of many of these arts have been neglected during the pandemic period.

But through the use of these arts, especially medicine and science, we will overcome the novel coronavirus and restart civilization in its manifold forms and functions.

Prometheus has returned. America awakens.

Silvio Laccetti is a columnist and a retired professor of history at Stevens Tech in Hoboken, N.J.

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